Bluemoose Books has found a corner in a tough market. Nick Ahad met the man behind the publishing house and his latest author.
As a David and Goliath story, the tale of Blumoose Books will never have as dramatic a finale as the Bible version. Bluemoose is never going to bring down the publishing giants. It will, however, land a few blows.
Established by Kevin Duffy from his Hebden Bridge home thanks to a remortgage and a wife who told him to stop complaining when he won a national competition only to be told his book wouldn't be published because it wasn't commercial enough, Bluemoose Books came into life in 2006.
It could have been dismissed as vanity – the publishing house's first novel was Anthills and Stars written by Duffy. However, he was clearly serious and sunk 15,000 of the remortgaging money into the business and followed up the first novel with a book by Canadian novelist Nathan Vanek.
Since the publication of The Art of Being Dead by Stephen Clayton in 2009, Bluemoose has published four more novels, with Michael Stewart's King Crow the latest.
"I think we are growing, not in the sense of getting bigger, but with each new novel we are gaining more recognition," says Duffy. "Our last novel, was the first to sell in Waterstone's nationally and was selected as a reader's book of the year by one national newspaper. King Crow is also going to be sold nationally. With each new book, we are gaining a wider audience."
Not only that, Bluemoose has enjoyed combined total sales of over 5,000 for the four novels it has published since 2009 and its next book due this summer is going to be serialised in a national newspaper. Although the figures might seem like small beer, when a genuine ambition for most small independent publishing houses is to simply stay open, Bluemoose is doing very nicely. It's all vindication for Duffy who set up the company in response to his frustration at what he saw was happening to the book industry.
"Unless you could guarantee selling 20,000 'units', or had a celebrity, no-one was willing to take a chance on something new and interesting," says Duffy. "The gatekeepers of the industry are the agents, you can't even get to the publishers – and even if you do, they're not interested, willing or able to take a risk on something new.
"Everyone is so terrified of having a failure and the margins for the big publishers are so small that anything seen as new or interesting just doesn't seem to get through. When your aim is to shift 50,000 copies of a book, new and interesting is not what you're looking for – you're looking for formula that you know you can sell."
It's not true, of course. There are interesting new voices who are making waves in the literary world – Silsden's Ross Raisin secured a rumoured 200,000 advance for his first novel God's Own Country, published by Viking and Sunjeev Sahota is another debutante making a name for himself – but Duffy is willing to take risks with authors the bigger publishing houses might not.
For him the story is king: "I want to tell great stories that engage and excite the reader. I don't have my eye on the supermarkets or the three for two sales – I'm not interested in that, just great stories."
One writer benefitting from Duffy's willingness to seek out new voices and new stories is Michael Stewart. Lecturer in creative writing at Huddersfield University, the director of Huddersfield Literature Festival and a playwright, Stewart is now also a novelist. Stewart's King Crow tells the story of Paul Cooper, a troubled 16-year- old who is obsessed with bird watching. After landing in trouble at school, he goes on the run with a friend and the resulting adventures are told at a frenetic pace by Stewart. Acclaimed novelist Melvin Burgess has already endorsed the novel, saying: "Michael is a fascinating new voice and King Crow is a fine debut novel... It's a fantastic example of modern fiction at its innovative best." Stewart, whose Radio Four play Castaway is being broadcast on Valentine's Day, says that while the book's anti-hero is a 16-year-old boy, it's not necessarily aimed at a younger audience. "I didn't write it with young people in mind – I just wanted to tell the story of a young boy who is excluded from school and what happens to someone like that who is abandoned by the system. I think it actually tackles quite adult themes and hopefully it's a good story."
King Crow is launched tonight at the Arts Centre, Thornton, 7.30pm. Stewart will be signing at Waterstone's at 12pm in Bradford, February 5, Huddersfield, February 12, Leeds, February 19, and at Sleepers Bar, Huddersfield, February 8, 8pm and Doncaster Library, February 9, 2pm.
The Bluemoose Booklist
The Art of Being Dead: Stephen Clayton's novel tells the story of a young man who may or may not be a murderer.
Falling Through Clouds: Anna Chilvers' updating of the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight makes a hero of a journalist held hostage in Iraq.
Gabriel's Angel: Mark Rafdcliffe's novel imagines the afterlife as a group therapy session.
King Crow: Described as part birding manual, part novel, the tale of a delinquent fantastist.